In the US: Monday 1st February 2010, 9pm, NBC
In the UK: I'm thinking about 13 or 14 weeks from now
Normally, when you say a Heroes episode is "a bit season 1ish", it's a good thing. But in this case, when we're nearing the end of season four - yes, just one episode to go now - it's a bit of a problem. Spoilers and discussion after the jump.
Plot (from the usual inaccurate NBC press release)
SYLAR'S WORST FEARS COME TO LIFE AS H.R.G. FACES HIS PAST
ERIC ROBERTS, MADELINE ZIMA, DEANNE BRAY AND ELIZABETH ROHM GUEST STAR
Fueled by his vision of Emma (guest star Deanne Bray) in grave danger, Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) attempts to rescue Sylar (Zachary Quinto) from his worst nightmare. At the carnival, Samuel (Robert Knepper) reveals H.R.G.s (Jack Coleman) secret past in order to bring Claire (Hayden Panettiere) to his side. Meanwhile, Lauren (guest star Elizabeth Rohm) makes a bold move to put a stop to Samuel.
Sendhil Ramamurthy also stars. Ashley Crow, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Harry Perry, and Todd Stashwick also guest star.
Was it any good?
If this had been sitting somewhere in season one, I'd have said yes, probably. I might have been amazed by Sylar's change of character, but I'm amazed by his change of character as it is. But as a collection of character pieces, it might have worked.
But we're not in season one. We're one episode away from the end of season four and we've just had quite a fast-paced episode. Oops.
Okay, so visually this fit in with season one and Peter's dream sequences very nicely. Here we have Peter and emo-Sylar trying to patch up their differences. Sylar's proclaiming himself a changed man after finding himself locked up in his own mind for the last three years - three hours to the rest of the world, mind.
Now we've been here before in flashforwards and the like, and eventually the producers have backed away and made Sylar evil again. But at the very least, it looks like it might stick this season. The Hunger is a thing of the past - Sylar doesn't want to be alone and that's all that counts. And fair enough - he's got Lydia's power and Nathan's memories in his head, so it's vaguely plausible, and the volume is called Redemption so clearly someone has to be redeemed if we're going to avoid the volume title being a total lie.
It's hard to believe that Peter would buy this, though, despite his glimpse of future Sylar in volume three, primarily
a) because Sylar killed Nathan
b) because Sylar killed about two gadzillion other people, tried to kill Peter, et al
c) we've done all this before.
Nevertheless, to escape from Sylar's brain - aka the NBC studios backlot - Peter has to forgive Sylar so they can escape Sylar's dreamscape and star in their own buddy-buddy movie together. When they get out, they find that somehow, badly CGI matted Eli has located them. How he did this without Lydia, I don't know. What Matt and Janice are doing at the moment, I don't know either, although Matt seemed to leave Peter just sitting around in his basement while finishing off his nice brickwork prison for Sylar so he's clearly not fussed. Maybe they've gone to a hotel somewhere to get away from it all.
Anyway, with super-Sylar on your team and Peter still armed with Matt's psy powers, who wants to bet that's going to be a short fight next week? Fingers crossed, it'll be on-screen, look good and involve lots of powers, rather than be behind closed doors.
All the same, despite my cynicism, this wasn't bad. It was a decent character piece for both Peter and Sylar with some nice flourishes here and there. And does anyone else find it worrying that we're getting more character and background detail for Nathan since he died and/or got embedded in Sylar's head than when he was around?
The other strand in this week's two-hander was yet another flashback, this time to 1985, Los Angeles, and HRG's first marriage. Yes, we learn that HRG used to be a second-hand car salesman, married, with a child on the way. Except then a guy with telekinesis pretends to be a delivery guy, kills his wife and sets HRG on the path of darkness and vengeance. All this is shown via the mirror-memories guy's power to Claire in glorious black and white. Apparently, 1985 was monochrome.
Now, this would have been quite nice back in season one or even earlier in the season. We got a cameo by Eric Roberts as Thompson, which was great. We got references to Claude (no Christopher Eccleston, of course). We got a minor cameo from Ashley Crow as Sandra, which was also nice.
But we've been here before with Company Man and we really didn't need it this time or at this time - we're an episode away from the season finale and we're getting backstory filler that doesn't visibly add to the character or his relationship with Claire? Why?
Admittedly, at the end of it, we get Claire turning round and not hating HRG and asking Samuel whether he seriously expected to make her hate her father. Which makes a slight change, but we've had that, too, earlier in the season (as well as, just a few episodes ago, Claire hating her father). We don't need the continuous flip-flopping, the will she hate him, won't she hate him. All cheerleaders have to grow up and leave their families sooner or later, but I do long for the season one days of Claire having something to do apart from hate her dad.
More importantly, there was a whole lot of things that should have been happening this episode which we didn't get because of this great big lump of filler.
Still, next week we can look forward to (yet more) father-daughter heart-to-hearts since they're going to be stuck underground in a souvenir shop together. That sounds fun.
At the same time, Emma's lurking around giving medical help to Lauren, who's trying to convince her that Samuel is a Bad Man. Now, she's been shot, so if HRG had been behind the shootings, it's unlikely she'd be supporting him. Yet the formerly smart Emma now sides with Samuel and gives up Lauren because she doesn't believe her - or because she's weak. This devalues Emma as a character and makes her a plot piece.
Worse still, it's pointless since Eli's given the job of disposing of Lauren, and despite there being potentially hundreds of him, he loses her while playing 'cat and mouse' - all off camera, since that would have been an interesting action piece and we can't afford those any more. So Emma's been devalued for no reason when she could have simply helped Lauren to escape, and come out of it a stronger character.
We also learnt that Samuel has a plan to move the Carnival to New York and do something to demonstrate his power. Was this always his plan? Was it his plan from the moment he got the film? Was it his plan from the point Vanessa dumped him? I have no idea. But whatever the reason, judging from next week's promo, it's going to look cheap, although we can always pray to an unlistening, unfeeling God that it won't be.
In some ways reasonably good, but a bad placement for the episode, which should have been doing a whole lot more, as well as a whole lot less.
Conclusion and looking forward (?) to the finale
So as I said, we're a week away from the triumphant (?) season finale, Brave New World, which looks to be a game-changer at least for Volume Six (which is also going to be called Brave New World).
Clearly, things aren't working entirely to plan with the writing, since Sendhil Ramamurthy keeps getting mentioned in the NBC press releases as being in episodes but never shows up in the episodes themselves. What's going on there? Why the removal of Mohinder from the storyline, after just a few minutes of screen time this whole season?
Even if we buy Tim Kring's suggestion that he was shooting a movie that threatened to clash with the Heroes shooting schedule at the start of the season, how about now? At the very least, it suggests last minute changes to the plot, which never inspires confidence.
But one episode away, where's Hiro? Ando? Charley? Has Hiro forgotten about her? Has Mohinder legged it to India until next season at least as the graphic novels suggest? Where is Matt? Where's Edgar? Where's Lydia's daughter?
Where's Tracy, following last week's 10-second phone call from Lauren? Okay, this week's graphic novel - which again shows what the writers would like to be doing if they had the budget - tells us she's been helping other 'specials' in a really super-duper, kick arse kind of way and lets us know she's going to be back next week; it also fills us in on Becky's storyline [again, where has she been?]. But would it have hurt to at least have mentioned her this week? Another 10-second shot of her in her car, on the way? That might have raised the tension a little. Ditto Hiro and co.
We should be building up to a crescendo now, rather than doing the start-of-season character tag-team work we're getting. We should have all the heroes on deck and converging. But we haven't. Look at what season one was doing at the same point, or even volume three and you'll notice the difference in terms of pacing and feel.
Given the reduced character count*, it should be even easier to get as many characters as possible into the stories at this stage. The writers really shouldn't have as much trouble juggling storylines as they have of late.
Whether it's simply because they don't have the likes of Greg Beeman juggling the shooting logistics, whether it's the reduced budget or a conscious decision, it's not working dramatically. I'm vaguely looking forward to the season finale, but the promo isn't exactly inspiring me - if there were the great big gang up implied by the press release NBC have put out for the finale, I'd have expected a couple of shots of other heroes, or even shots of a gang of them. I doubt many of the questions raised this season will be answered, and most of the promising storylines at the start which got dropped won't be picked up.
So I'm suspecting that beyond the whole game-changing nature of the finale, we can - yet again - expect another volume of Heroes to go out with a whimper, not a bang.
* Some people say that Heroes never kills characters, but looking at my season one mousemat today, I noticed that of the 12 characters depicted, four are dead (DL, Nathan, Isaac, Simone), one's been replaced by another character who isn't in the show much (Niki/Jessica and Tracy), one hasn't been in it for a season (Micah), and Mohinder might as well not have been. Not on the mat are Sandra and Kyle, who have been more or less written out. That leaves us just Peter, Claire, HRG, Matt and Hiro from the original cast, as well as Sylar, Tracy, Ando and the new arrivals, of which there are few, since Elle, speedy girl, Maya, Molly and co have all bitten the dust or been written out as well.
- February 9, 2010: Season finale: Heroes 4x18 - Brave New World
A review of the Heroes episode Brave New World and a look back at the fourth season